After Six Years, UN Climate Summit Returns to Africa

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) -- The U.N. climate summit is back in Africa after six years and four consecutive Europe-based conferences.

The 27th annual Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change -- better known as COP27 -- will be held in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt and begins next week. It's been branded as the "African COP", with officials and activists hoping the conference's location will mean the continent's interests are better represented in climate negotiations.

Hosts Egypt say the meeting represents a unique opportunity for Africa to align climate change goals with the continent's other aims, like improving living standards and making countries more resilient to weather extremes. Organizers expect over 40,000 participants, the highest number ever for a climate summit on the continent.

Ever since the conference's first iteration in Berlin in 1995, the U.N. climate summit continues to rotate annually among the five U.N. classified regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, central and eastern Europe, and western Europe. It's the fifth time that an African nation has held the U.N. climate summit, with Morocco, South Africa and Kenya all serving as former hosts.

The first African summit, held in Marrakech in 2001, passed landmark accords on climate funding and made other key decisions on land use and forestry. The following three meetings on the continent had some success on issues like adapting to climate change, technology and sowing the seeds for the Paris Agreement in 2015 years earlier. Marrakech is also the last African city to host the event, having hosted a second COP in 2016, that aimed to implement some of the Paris goals.

The Paris Agreement, considered a major success of the U.N. climate summits, saw nations agree to limit warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with an aim of curbing it to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

And although experts don't expect agreement between countries to reach the same scale as Paris, hopes on the continent are high for the upcoming conference.

Mithika Mwenda, who heads the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, told The Associated Press that the summit "presents a unique opportunity to place Africa at the center of global climate negotiations" and hoped the conference "truly delivers for the African people."

Mwenda said that the "special needs and circumstances" of the continent need to be considered as it attempts to both increase access to electricity for millions of people while addressing climate change and limiting the use of fossil fuels.

He added negotiations must prioritize how vulnerable countries will adapt to climate change, address compensation from high-polluting countries to poorer ones, known as "loss and damage", and seek avenues for financing for both a move to cleaner energy and building resilience to climate change. Many developing countries look to the U.S. and much of Europe, who have contributed the largest share of emissions over time, to pay for damage caused by climate change.

So far, pledges by rich countries on climate finance, such as the $100 billion-a-year promise to help poorer nations meets their climate goals, have not been met. The Egyptian organizers said the summit should focus on how countries can implement pledges made in previous years.

"Africa's hopes for COP27 is that there has to be progress on a new goal on financing," said Jean-Paul Adam, who heads the climate change division at the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, adding there needs to be "clarity as to what will be provided as grants and what will be provided as concessional loans and the remainder being dealt with through prudential private sector investment."

The onus is also on industrialized countries to rapidly reduce emissions so that the global climate goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius can be achieved, Mwenda said. African countries account for just 3% of total global greenhouse gas emissions but experts say they are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in large part because they lack the ability to quickly adapt to the warming climate.

The climate conference will be a real test of world leaders' commitment to addressing climate change, said Landry Ninteretse, regional director for the environmental group 350Africa.org.

"We are tired of years of empty talk and broken promises," said Ninteretse. "We are now demanding nothing else but robust funding mechanisms that address loss and damage in a fair, accessible and transparent way."

Ninteretse agreed that "the biggest emitters must commit to rapidly cut emissions" and "help the nations most vulnerable to climate change" by financing climate initiatives.

Past COPs have seen disagreements and hardline positions emerge as national interests clash, a concern for those hoping tangible results will come out of the negotiations.

"The discussions tend to be protracted, uncompromising and acrimonious at times," said Mwenda, a veteran of the climate negotiations circuit. "But in 2015, the world ratified the Paris Agreement, which was a major milestone."

But the success of the COP in Paris was the exception, rather than the rule, experts say, with a lot of work still to do to address climate change.

"Negotiations have lasted three decades but the impacts of the climate crisis, manifested by floods, droughts, among other extremes, persist," Mwenda said.